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9/15/2004
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Amazon Unit Challenges Google, Other Search Sites

A9.com is walking a fine line between working with Google and competing against it.

Following an April test, A9.com Inc., a subsidiary of Amazon.com, today officially launched A9.com, a search site that finds itself in competition with Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo, to name a few of the most prominent search engines.

That's not how computer scientist and A9.com CEO Udi Manber characterizes his company's place in the market. "We don't concentrate on competition," he says. "We look at users. That's something we took from Amazon. Whatever we think can improve the user experience, that's what we're going after."

Those improvements differentiate A9.com from other search engines. The site delivers search results from several sources: Google's Web and image index, over 100,000 Amazon.com titles, the Internet Movie Database, and GuruNet.com's reference information. It also searches the user's search history.

"It's an extension of your memory," Manber says.

It's an extension of your computer as well, in that A9.com makes your bookmarks, your search history, and any annotations you've made through the diary feature available from any computer, provided you log in and have the A9 browser toolbar installed.

This works because A9 stores your bookmarks, search history, and diary on its servers. Asked whether A9 plans to scan its users' data to deliver targeted ads, as Google does with Gmail, Manber responds, "We're very, very sensitive about privacy. And we created several features to help you there."

Foremost among them is a mirror of A9.com, located at generic.A9.com. This mirror offers A9 searches without any personalization or the need to sign in. Users can also delete their history and bookmarks from A9.com's servers at any time. The company didn't have an immediate answer as to whether backup servers might still retain copies of deleted data.

The fact that Google provides the bulk of A9.com's search results, ads, and revenue means that, at least in the near term, the two companies will remain on friendly terms.

But Chris Winfield, president and co-founder of search engine marketing firm 10E20, predicts the relationship won't last, just as Yahoo weaned itself from Google. "It's just a matter of time before the licensing deal goes away," he says. "They'll be building their own search [technology]. Udi is a search guy."

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